What is self-esteem?
In short, self-esteem is the image that you have of yourself.
A good self-esteem can bring many positives to one’s life, such as personal worth, self-respect and the strength to face life challenges.
On the other hand, a low self-esteem can negatively affect every part of one’s life, including health, job and relationships. Those with low self-esteem often feel inadequate to face life’s problems and are often destined to fail.
Self-Esteem in Children and Teens
Children and young people are especially vulnerable to feelings of inferiority, because they often compare themselves with their friends and school mates. By having a low self-esteem, they may also fall into self-destructive behaviours.
Especially during this coronavirus pandemic, kids are spending a lot of their time on social media, where they are being fed numerous highlights. They see only the best and most attractive moments of others, without the efforts, struggles, and merely ordinary aspects of day-to-day life. And there’s already evidence that these images are causing distress to many children.
However, not only children and young people are at risk of developing low self-esteem. The transition from an active professional life to retirement can also dramatically reduce self-esteem in many people, especially in those whose job or position was the main source of their self-worth.
Low self-esteem can cause depression, affect school and work achievement, lead to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, drug and alcohol abuse, and negatively impact on interpersonal relationships.
Troubling conditions and/or situations, such as a crisis at home or work, a challenge with a loved one, spouse or a co-worker, or a change in life circumstances (loss of job or a child leaving home) can also impact on one’s self-esteem. For that reason, it is important to know how to improve self-esteem, as this helps with the ability to be happy.
Healthy self-esteem is when one has a solid belief in their abilities, and knows their weaknesses.
To develop a healthy self-esteem, it is important to be aware of and understand our thoughts and beliefs.
We interact with others and ourselves. What we tell others and ourselves (self-talk) can create how we feel. Our thoughts and beliefs can be positive, negative or neutral. They can also be rational and based on facts, or irrational, based on false ideas. Messages from the people around us – even non-verbal ones – continuously shape our self-esteem.
It is not easy to recognise inaccuracies in our thinking, because we can feel that our thoughts and beliefs are “normal” and based on facts, even though many of them may be just perceptions based on where we grew up and who influenced us and shaped our way of thinking. Improving our self-esteem requires paying attention to our thought patterns, and challenging the negative or inaccurate ones that erode our self-esteem.
Unhelpful Thoughts and Self-Esteem
Negative or unhelpful patterns of thinking that impact self-esteem tend to fall into the following categories:
- All-or-nothing thinking (things are either all good or all bad).
- Mental Filtering (seeing only negative things and dwelling on them).
- Jumping to Conclusions (mind reading).
- Catastrophising (seeing things in a negative light even when they are not, and expecting the worst possible outcome).
- Black and White Thinking (everything is either wrong or right, good or bad and so on).
- Overgeneralization (saying “You always…” or “Everyone…”, or “I never…).
- Labelling (making global statements based on behaviour in specific situations).
- Shoulding and Musting (putting unreasonable demands or pressure on yourself and others).
- Emotional Reasoning (viewing situations or yourself on the way you are feeling).
- Magnification and Minimization (magnifying the positives of other people and minimising your own positive attributes).
So, it is time to adjust our thoughts and beliefs by forgiving ourselves, avoiding “should” and “must” statements, focusing on positives, and encouraging ourselves.
We can also help to enhance a balanced development of self-esteem in others, by:
- Emphasizing positives in others (words of approval for good work can enhance their self-esteem).
- Different people have different needs (eg men tend to appreciate positive comments about their ability, while women often welcome affection and comments on their looks, tact and sensitivity).
- Do not joke with or mock the other person (eg some people with low self-esteem may suffer a lot if others tease or mock them – joke only with those who know how to take it).
- Provide family support (family members that feel loved and accepted are less likely to have self-esteem deficiency).
- Ask forgiveness when appropriate (eg when it is obvious that someone’s self-esteem will suffer – forgiving has been found to help).
Improving Your Self-Esteem
Self-esteem can also be enhanced on a personal level.
The following suggestions may help you to build a healthier self-esteem:
- Keep yourself fit and healthy. Sport and recreation, together with a healthy diet benefit our mental and physical wellbeing, and make us feeling better within ourselves. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
- Look more at your strong and positive features. Remember your personal achievements and be aware that there are some areas of need for improvement.
- Be in control of your thoughts. Reject self-critical messages. Think rationally of yourself.
- Forgive yourself. Stop continuously blaming yourself for past mistakes or problems you may have caused to others, especially if you have already taken appropriate steps to resolve them.
- Find support. Good family relationships provide the ideal context to develop a healthy self-esteem.
- Reaffirm your successes. List your past achievements, reflect on them and review them once in a while.
- Take care of yourself. Follow good health guidelines.
Finally, be careful with self-esteem. It can become exaggerated.
Although low self-esteem affects a lot of people, an exaggerated concept of oneself is a danger that can become pathological: for example, somebody with an excessive need for admiration, obsessed with power, success, great achievements, immense wealth or beauty, the desire to exploit others, and/or belief that others envy him or her. Such individuals have narcissistic tendencies and may suffer the following as a result of their disorders: social rejection, poor achievement, and emotional problems. Narcissism is really a compensatory reaction of minimal self-esteem in hiding, but that is a topic for another article.
As with everything in life, balance is most important. For a healthy self-esteem it is very important to have a content, meaningful and balanced life.
Author: Nenad Bakaj, MHumServ (RehabCouns), BSocWk, DipAppSci (Comm&HumServ), AMHSW, MAAC, MAASW, JP (Qld)
Nenad Bakaj is a Brisbane based Clinical Counsellor, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, Life Coach and Bigger Bite Out Of Life Trainer with a keen interest in positive psychology, mental health and wellbeing, and is continually developing his professional skills and knowledge. Nenad enjoys working with adolescents and young adults, as well as older clients, and feels it is a privilege to be able to support them. In the counselling room, Nenad aims to build rapport with his clients to assist them to reach their health, relationship, personal and life goals, and a happy and fruitful life.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
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